Cable Industry's False Copyright Claims Are Killing Cable Box Reform Efforts

from the disinformation-nation dept

In the quest to stop the FCC from bringing competition to the set top box, the cable industry has trotted out all manner of misleading arguments, most of which have been pushed in editorials in newspapers nationwide without highlighting author ties to the sector. Some of them have tried to pretend that cable box competition will create a piracy apocalypse. Others have tried to somehow argue that better, cheaper hardware and choices will somehow harm minority communities. Most of those are just flimsy attempts to try and keep the FCC from cracking open a $21 billion monopoly on cable box rental fees.

Fearing their own loss of control, the entertainment industry has joined the cable sector in also claiming new cable box rules will somehow violate copyright law. Under the FCC’s original proposal (pdf), the agency simply states that existing cable content must be delivered to third-party hardware using the copy protection of the industry’s choice. Nothing in the rules will change that, or magically give third-party vendors the right to violate copyright. Still, opponents of the rules have consistently tried to claim the rules are some kind of cabal by Google to freeload off of and repackage “their innovation.”

A recent filing by the cable industry’s biggest lobbying organization (pdf), the NCTA, put it this way:

“The proposed approach would circumvent the MVPD?s (read: cable company’s) technological protection measures and license restrictions, with no enforceable means to prevent streaming that movie outside the home, in clear violation of the license to the MVPD, and the content owner?s copyright.”

Except if you actually read the proposal (which hasn’t even been fully cooked yet), it does nothing of the sort, and the FCC time and time and time again has stated whatever rules are passed will adhere to existing copyright (probably to a fault, if history’s any indication). As the EFF noted a few months ago, claims that set top box competition will violate copyright is simply a head fake — where the very definition of copyright has been mangled and distorted to fight off efforts to open technology up for user benefit. Put simply, copyright doesn’t really apply to the improvements the FCC wants to make to your cable TV viewing experience:

“Copyright is only an exclusive right to copy creative work (and to distribute, publicly perform, and adapt it). Copyright has important limitations, including fair use. Copyright doesn?t give rightsholders the ability to stop others from ?monetizing? (double ugh) or even ?exploiting? creative work unless one of the specific rights laid out in the law is violated. TV and home stereo manufacturers, used DVD sellers, and popcorn growers all ?monetize? and profit from the creative works of others without asking permission or paying royalties. Last year, a federal court ruled that copyright doesn?t stop Dish Networks from offering a DVR that can skip commercials automatically. And no one has to pay extra for a mute button that works during commercial breaks (yet).

Real set top box competition would not only demolish $21 billion in captive revenues, it would dismantle a walled garden under construction for a generation. Set top box competition would result in more open boxes more inclined to show users alternative, niche options outside of the traditional cable and broadcast wheelhouse. Worse, it would give the consumer more control than ever before in terms of how content and media is consumed, bringing the cable box more in line with open platforms like the PC. How terrifying. The EFF continues:

“…Since competition would mean lower prices and more choice for customers, and less control and profits for the monopolists, they would rather keep the conversation on their made-up version of copyright law. Consumers are not fooled. Consumers recognize that the cable set-top box market has been a long, frustrating experience where they have little choice and have witnessed even less innovation. Consumers know they are being ripped off by the current marketplace ($230 per consumer totaling $20 billion in rental fees each year) because they don’t have an easy way to just own their box like they do with computers, cable modems, smart phones, tablets, and other electronic devices.”

Understanding that copyright is a straw man in this conversation about monopoly hardware control makes some of the waffling we’ve been seeing at the FCC on the proposal all the more frustrating. It’s waffling only made possible by the literal army of broadcast, cable and entertainment industry lobbyists busy “educating” politicians on their mangled definition of copyright, and how these systems actually work. And as a Washington Post article detailed last week, this lobbying campaign appears to be working:

“My office has met with the Copyright Office, and I know that the Copyright Office has expressed concern about just what you described,” Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel told House lawmakers Tuesday. “So I think more work is necessary on our part.” Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said Tuesday that she’s heard from the Copyright Office, too, on the same issue. Another Democrat on the commission, Mignon Clyburn, said copyright protections “must be in place” in any final rule, but stopped short of saying the FCC’s initial plan had problems.”

The furrowed brows of worry over entirely artificial copyright concerns don’t bode well for the FCC’s proposal. In the post truth era, repetition (not truth) dictates reality, and it’s becoming abundantly clear that the cable and entertainment sector’s misinformation efforts are paying dividends and stalling the effort. Again, that’s not the end of the world as the FCC may find it more effective to focus on the biggest problem in the streaming age (the lack of broadband competition and usage caps), but it’s still frustrating to see how effective these kinds of coordinated campaigns continue to be in the campaign-contribution-soaked nation’s capital.

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Comments on “Cable Industry's False Copyright Claims Are Killing Cable Box Reform Efforts”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

There won’t be a cord cutting collapse. At least in the US your cable provider and internet access provider are often the same and there are enough barriers to entry that you won’t see any new players in the industry. When cord cutting really starts to hurt the bottom line they will just raise the price of internet access to the same price you pay now and offer a “discount” for cable and set box rental. If that doesn’t work they will use onerous usage caps & overage fees.

No matter what you do you are going to be paying Warner/Comcast/Verizon/AT&T $200-300 a month unless you want to live w/o internet. They have enough money and lawyers that they are going to get their pound of flesh from you no matter what.

Joe says:

Re: Re: Re:

Irony, is that Comcast themselves provide a loophole. But best not to expose it until wireless prices collapse.

You’d be stupid to pay $100 a month for capped Internet service, and not consider more advanced methods like a mesh network for local servers, BTW. I can’t wait until FCC goes out looking for “pirate servers” the way they do radios.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Yeah, cable is still a thing. However, we dumped cable and went internet only last week. A HUGE part of our cable bill, to the tune of more than $40 per month, was our equipment rental fees. Yep, more than $480 per year. Screw that, and screw them. We no longer pay Concast (the mis-spelling is deliberate) ANY equipment fees. They did try to talk us into an allegedly “better” modem. Hah! We have the best modem you can purchase at Best Buy, and it has already paid for itself in avoidance of equipment fees.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

When my cable bill went up $50 a month because I had a promotion price that expired the cable company (Cox or Cocks as they should be called) would not do anything for me. I had been a cable customer with them for over a decade. I offered to enter into a new contract and they refused. That’s only for new customers. As soon as I cut cable and went streaming only saving me $150 a month now they send me me all kinds of come back offers. It’s been a year and I don’t regret it.

pegr (profile) says:

The real issue

Of course, the cable industry is suspicious of a set top box they don’t control. The whole idea of copy protection in this context is logically invalid. Let’s consider the problem like any other encryption problem.

Alice encrypts her message to Bob to keep it safe from Charles. With copy protection (a.k.a. Digital Rights Management), Bob and Charles are the same person!

Joe says:


“The proposed approach would circumvent the MVPD’s (read: cable company’s) technological protection measures and license restrictions, with no enforceable means to prevent streaming that movie outside the home, in clear violation of the license to the MVPD, and the content owner’s copyright.”
Wouldn’t this apply to a HDMI stripper and DVR? Shark jumped, cablecards? At least a 3rd party set top box would not be THAT open. We’re so used to having smoke blown up our rears by these folks, that you’ll have to excuse us for being cynical!

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